A Brief History of the Center for Integrated Fungal Research
The Center for Integrated Fungal Research (CIFR) has evolved over more than a decade, always keeping focused and true to its primary vision: to be a world leader in exploring the diverse roles of fungi in the biosphere to resolve societal grand challenges. Using cutting edge approaches and techniques, CIFR continues to develop a comprehensive and deeper understanding of fungal biology, particularly on the roles that fungi play in the complex dynamics of agricultural, animal, environmental, and human health systems. From its inception, CIFR has had a strong focus on providing training for students and early career scientists as well as disseminating educational information to citizens, policy makers and stakeholders. In particular, CIFR promotes understanding of both the beneficial and deleterious activities of fungi.
Founding Director Ralph Dean and Associate Director Gary Payne established the Center for Integrated Fungal Research in 2001 to combat the threat of fungal disease and enhance industrial application of fungi. They tackled these tasks through the development of a holistic view of the interaction of fungal pathogens and plants at individual and community scales. The creation of a Center facilitated integrating a broad spectrum of approaches and expertise for investigating the fundamental biology of fungi of agronomic and industrial significance, as well as their interaction with plants and other members of the soil community. Through 2011, CIFR was consistently comprised of six to seven laboratories at NC State, all focused primarily on fungal-based research.
As the field of fungal biology continues to advance, recognition of the complexity of the interactions between fungi and the suite of biotic and abiotic factors present in the soil environment, including plants, microbes, insects, water, and both physical and chemical soil characteristics, prompted CIFR to increase the scope of scientific expertise within the Center. In 2013, the center expanded the leadership team and brought in additional CIFR faculty with diverse research foci, all related to the complex web of dynamic interactions occurring around microbes in soil. An Executive Committee was formed, made up of five CIFR faculty members, including new Director Ignazio Carbone and Associate Director Marc Cubeta, to guide the center. In addition to the existing core proficiency in fungal biology and genomics, CIFR added expertise in soil biogeochemistry, plant-microbe interactions, plant functional ecology, functional genomics, mathematical modeling, microbial mediation of plant and ecosystem responses to global change components, and climatology to its repertoire. This broader expertise pool is necessary to fulfill the goal of CIFR to integrate all aspects of fungal research, including effects of changing environment and climate, disease, agriculture, evolution, mathematical modeling, and genomics and bioinformatics, as well as to translate knowledge from fundamental research to stakeholders, the general public, and the scientific community.
In addition to ongoing collaborative research within the academic sphere, CIFR explored ways to develop industry partnerships and gain industry perspective on research directions with societal impact, in keeping with the original center intent to increase fungal research with industrial applications. In 2015, the Plant Soil Microbial Community Consortium (PSMCC) was created with the support of our industry Founding Members: Novozymes, BASF Plant Science, and RJ Reynolds. The industry-supported, pre-competitive model of the consortium fosters interactions between and among industry members and university researchers to develop and fund innovative research in the plant-soil-microbe space. The consortium continues to actively grow, recently adding Bayer Crop Science to the Industry Advisory Board.